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Twickenham Truths: Henry Slade can still be centre of attention

Feature: Slade can still be centre of attention

12/11/2017 at 04:44Updated 23/11/2017 at 22:33

We look at what we learnt as England beat Argentina 21-8 in the Autumn Internationals at Twickenham.

It is just over two years since Stuart Lancaster named Sam Burgess in his doomed World Cup squad, which eventually led him to going for grunt over guile in the crucial encounter against Wales, which was lost. The dead rubber against Uruguay, however, showed him, perhaps, what he should have done. Henry Slade started that match and excelled in the 10-try drubbing.

Slade did not play anywhere near as well against Argentina on Saturday - he was not outstanding, but no-one was. Yet he showed some fast hands in combination with George Ford, and put in some nice kicks, which, given that his left peg is preferred, allows England variety. Crucially, he was not afraid to try things to open up space. A couple of times the passes did not go to hand, but one extravagantly long effort did. And it led to Semesi Rokoduguni's try - only England's second of a turgid game.

We'll never know what would have happened in that match against Wales if the Exeter Chief had started, but on Saturday he showed another option for Eddie Jones at No 12. Although the Australian coach has tried eight different combinations in midfield during his reign, the front runners for the World Cup are starting to emerge.

With Ben Te'o, who is out injured, having an outstanding Lions tour there are now potentially five fighting for that position, if you include perennial sick note Manu Tuilagi, incumbent Owen Farrell, and Alex Lozowski, who carved through the Argentina defence as a substitute to hand England the platform for their second try. All five offer something different, and none of them look out of place.

Underhill selection adds up

England's grey kit was making its home debut, so was Sam Underhill. The former was meant to 'mask player movement', to make them less visible to the opposition, according to marketers anyway. The latter could not have been more visible to them when he introduced himself with a thundering tackle on centre Santiago Gonzalez Igleasias in the eighth minute.

Jones will have liked the preface to what became an impressive display from the Bath youngster, mainly because the other problem position that emerged from the World Cup debacle was openside flanker. Jones has openly called out for more competition in this area, with Chris Robshaw and James Haskell described as having the shirt number six-and-a-half. That is, they have the work rate of a No 6 and some of the poaching skills of a No 7. But they are not the complete package.

Judging by his performances for his club, and the workrate and tackle count against Argentina here, Underhill could be the next big - and with his dump truck physique, we mean BIG - thing. He needs much more game time for England, as does Nathan Hughes, who scored the first try after some superb juggling skills and a bulldozing run, but if he can add more turnovers to his next display, his attributes might just add up to a nice round 7.

No Rugby-Football Union over attitude

Maro Itoje was out on the pitch before the match in a green bib, putting the forwards through their paces. He looked intense and physical, but was not even in the squad. Apparently he and Owen Farrell, who was also left out after a busy summer with the Lions, were almost begging Jones to play.

"They hate it, which is a great reaction," said the Australian before the match. "They hate it because they want to play every Test. They love playing for England. They are proud of playing for England and they want to be part of a winning team."

Coming after Gareth Southgate was forced to hand out five debuts just up the road at Wembley the night before, due to what seemed fairly flimsy excuses from some of his star names, it is refreshing to see sportsmen who actually want to play for their country and make the jersey their own.

This England team give their all in every match and talk openly about winning the World Cup. Perhaps if their football contemporaries aped their attitude a bit more, they might stand half a chance in Russia next summer.

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